Skip to main content

Ron L. Deal, President, Smart Stepfamilies

Taken from The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family. Used with permission.

Shawn has one daughter, twenty-one. His first wife, Andrea, died of cancer at a young age. At forty-six Shawn married a divorced mother of two: Elisa, fifteen, and Bobbie, eleven. While the stepfamily seemed to have a smooth beginning, it didn't take long for sides to be taken and Shawn and Elisa's relationship became quite conflicted. Elisa's rejection of Shawn wasn't entirely personal (very often the rejection of a stepparent has more to do with the past than the present). Nevertheless, Shawn found it difficult not to feel wounded every time she would show her opposition. After much prayer and consideration, Shawn felt it necessary to reach out to Elisa and communicate his wishes and desires for their relationship.

His letter to Elisa illustrates a balanced understanding of stepfamily life at work. Shawn shows great compassion and objectivity, effectively communicating his position in relationship to Elisa. The letter didn't magically transport Shawn and Elisa to the Promised Land. Rather, the letter represents an intentional effort to keep stepping in the right direction. Observe perseverance at work, listening and understanding being conveyed, and patience winning out over pressure.

Dear Elisa,

We've never had the chance to sit down and share how we feel about my becoming a part of your household and vice versa. Since I'm not as good with words as you, this letter will share some of my thoughts and feelings so you will have the chance to understand more of where I am coming from.

First of all, I want you to know that it would have been my desire for your dad and mom to be together and that you and Bobbie grow up in a normal family relationship. That is the way God intended it and it is the way that human beings were meant to live. But, that is not reality; and it is reality that each of us must live with and function in.

I wish my first wife, Andrea, were still here as well and that Janice [Shawn's daughter] still had her mother to lean on and enjoy. But that is not the case. She is buried at a cemetery in Ohio. What is true is that Janice's mom would want her to go on with her life and become all she can be. With God's help, good lives can come from bad situations. God has given Janice many friends and stand-in mothers to help her go forward.

And I am thankful that God has given me a new companion, that your mom has joined my life, and that we have each other to lean on, to enjoy, and to build a new life with. We are stronger together than trying to make it alone on our own. And we can help you grow up to be all you can be better together than if your mom continued to struggle alone. I think you really know that already.

Given the realities that we have, here are some things I want for you.

I want for you to continue to have a loving and caring relationship with your father, Gary. He is your dad and you should enjoy all that you can with him. He loves you and has done a good job of showing you that love. I know you love him, too.

I want for you to continue to have the special relationship I see with your mom. My presence in her life should be one that helps her to love, support, and develop you. I am not there to take her away from you.

I want for the four of us (you, Bobbie, your mom, and me) and Janice (when she is here) to share this nice house and the life we have been given in a way that makes us all we can be--sharing, caring, supporting, and just enjoying life. This is not a combat zone. It is a refuge. There are plenty of other obstacles and enemies out there in the world. I once told a junior high school student that she needed to figure out who her friends were. All of us in this household are friends and we will stand together against those outside who would tear us down.

I want to be there for you and to help you in whatever ways I am able. At the same time I cannot allow you to "machine gun" me, and I will not voluntarily stand in the aim of your gun-sights. I really believe your goals are the same as those of your mom and me. If we can get on the same page we can all get on with God's plan for our lives.

Most of all, I want for you to find a place to stand in the midst of the chaos, uncertainty, and instability that life has placed you in. I once had the opportunity to spend a weekend with a wise man who had written a book called A Place To Stand. In it he explained that only when we place our lives in God's hands and follow the path of Jesus can we really stand up to the difficulties that come our way. So, I want for you a close relationship with God. I want you to be able to "cast your cares on Him, because he cares for you." A guy named Peter once wrote that to some folk whose families were being torn apart and whose lives had disintegrated. He promised them that God cares for them and that he would sustain them and guide them through the chaos. I want you to know the same peace that was available to those he was writing to.

Finally, Elisa, I want you to become all that you can be. You have been given health, a very intelligent brain, a wonderful mother, a caring dad, an ability to articulate your thoughts that is well beyond your years, a talent for playing music and participating in the arts, a natural aptitude for cooking, and a tender heart that cares for animals like Aggie and people like your parents and your friends. Your mom has begun the process of polishing some of the rough edges in your life. These include some of the social skills like your behavior in school and keeping an orderly room. Please try to view these as areas that will help you in the long run, even if they seem harsh or unreasonable at the present.

Elisa, I do not believe that God has presented the challenges you have faced already in life to have you fail. He does not want evil in your life, but he has allowed some difficulties to strengthen you for doing his purpose in the future. I want for you to trust that he is capable, that he does care for you ...and then I want for you to choose to behave in ways that result in positive growth rather than ways that are destructive to yourself and others.

If you do these things you will be happier and you will be able to better care for those around you. God has given you the responsibility of extending love, affection, and care to others--beginning with your dad, mom, and brother. I hope you will choose to rise above the pain, to know joy, and to become who you were meant to be. Another wise man has written that our problems are seldom caused by us, but they are ours. And it is in the way we step up to these problems that determines who we are, who we become, and how others view us.

Few of us can handle all of life alone. I can help you, but you must first invite me in. I will be here if and when you choose to do that.